Mike Hayes: Lessons Learned From A Lifetime Of Service

Mike Hayes was born into the Navy.

His grandfather was at Pearl Harbor on the day that lives in infamy. His father served too. The family moved often.

After high school in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, Hayes entered College of the Holy Cross on a ROTC scholarship.

Navy SEALs were less well known than today. But the more he learned, the more eager he was to join. After graduation in 1993, he was one of only 12 ROTC candidates nationwide selected for the elite unit.

His SEALs training class started with 120 members. Just 19 graduated.

After 10 years, Hayes applied for a Navy program at Harvard’s Kennedy School. He was the first SEAL accepted.

In 2005, 8 SEALs were killed in a helicopter crash. Hayes took over for the survivors. He spent 3 years in Iraq, rising to second in command of SEAL Team 10. That culminated with 8 months as the number 2 man for special operations in Anbar Province.

In his mid-30s, Hayes applied for a fellowship. He became a White House Fellow. In 2 years as director of defense policy and strategy at the National Security Council, he worked directly with Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

It was quite a time. Just 10 days in, he ran meetings in the White House Situation Room about the START Treaty. He helped negotiate in Russia, and handled Obama’s first foreign policy showdown, with John Brennan: a hijacking off the coast of Somalia.

In 2012 he was asked to take over SEAL Team 2, running operations in Afghanistan.

After 20 years in the military — where he was held at gunpoint, jumped out of a building rigged to explode, and helped amputate a teammate’s leg — Hayes retired. He joined private industry, working as chief of staff to Ray Dalio, and COO, at Bridgewater Associates.

That brought Hayes to Westport — to work and live.

Mike Hayes

In 2017 he pivoted again. A friend started Cognizant, a company offering digital, technology, consulting and operations services. Hayes is now senior vice president and head of strategic operations.

In the military, Hayes always wrote. In emails to his family, he said how much he loved them — in case those were his last words they’d ever read.

Now he’s written a book. Encouraged by feedback after public speaking — another of his talents — he decided to share his dramatic stories, and high-stakes lessons learned about excellence and leadership.

Never Enough: A Navy Seal Commander on Living a Life of Excellence, Agility, and Meaning offers lessons from both the battlefield and boardroom. Hayes focuses on what it means to do work of value, live a life of purpose, and stretch yourself to reach your highest potential.

Not everyone can be a Navy SEAL — or work with presidents and hedge fund titans. But, Hayes says, everyone can always try to be a better person.

“Each person has unique gifts,” he explains. He is guided by a Jesuit principle of service to community and planet taught at Holy Cross: “men and women, for and with others.”

Hayes puts his money — literally — where his mouth is. When Never Enough is published next February, he’ll donate all profits to a non-profit he began. One of Hayes’ longtime passions is Gold Star families. He’s already paid mortgages for some. Now, he’ll be able to cover even more.

Hayes’ book is aimed at an international audience. But — since moving to Westport in 2013, after a lifetime of moves — his feet are firmly planted in this community.

He was energized by the town’s spirit during Westport’s run to the Little League World Series final that summer. His children were athletes here, and Hayes has spoken to Staples High School teams about leadership. He’s also addressed the annual “Sticks for Soldiers” lacrosse event.

Our town is less familiar with the military than many others, Hayes notes. But Westporters serve and sacrifice in other ways.

“Everyone has something to offer,” he says. In his new book, he hopes to inspire readers — his neighbors here, and strangers everywhere — to ask themselves: “How can I do better? How can I do more?”

After a lifetime of service to others, Mike Hayes knows that is still never enough.

(To preorder Never Enough, click here.)

5 responses to “Mike Hayes: Lessons Learned From A Lifetime Of Service

  1. Mike Hayes for President? Got my vote!

  2. Gerald F. Romano, Jr.

    Mike Hayes “I salute you”
    Before you become President of the United States / I would like you to be Governor of our great state of Connecticut / It appears to me after decades that our Connecticut Politian’s don’t know how to be in the black / possible you can show them how simple it is to accomplish
    Thank You for Your Service

    Sincerely,
    Gerald F. Romano, Jr.
    AMS 3 US Naval Air Squadron Brunswick, ME

  3. Sandy Lefkowitz

    mIke should inspire all but particularly our young people. Serving our country in the military, public health or just public service is a privilege. His commitment to our country will help unify our country.

  4. terry brannigqan

    Wow!. I would love to meet Mike and introduce him to our Staples Wrestling program. The qualities and focus you reference are the very essentials that have driven our success.

  5. Sandra Calise Cenatiempo

    Amazing and inspirational! Thank you for your service Mike!

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